Wednesday 31 January 2018

Our Mexican Adventure, Part Two: “Well, the Good Thing Is…”

I give myself permission to fully experience whatever comes up during this trip, knowing I am safe.—Martin Baker

As I described in part one of this series, Fran is in Mexico right now. I am keeping a journal throughout the trip, and compiling my day-by-day notes into a series of weekly blog posts.

This post covers Fran’s first week in the town of Ajijic in the State of Jalisco, on the north shore of Lake Chapala.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Our Mexican Adventure, Part Two: “Well, the Good Thing Is…”

Wednesday, January 24, 7:35 a.m. UK time

I had a nice call with Fran yesterday (Tuesday). She’d slept better (the first night she’d woken freezing cold and had to put on extra layers) and sounded calm. She was glad she’d decided to stay in and rest the night before. The call set us both up for the day.

Fran went out for brunch in Guadalajara yesterday, checked out from Hotel Frances at noon and then caught her ride to Ajijic (“Hola, Enrique!”) She picked up the keys to the apartment, and started to get settled in.

Unfortunately, when she unpacked she discovered one of her tops has gone missing from her suitcase. She was understandably upset and it did nothing to help her feel at ease.

I’m nervous about this whole trip. My Bali top going missing really pissed me off, along with all the other things. I brought my best ones goddammit. I should have brought the old ones. I cannot get these any more. They don’t make them.

“… all the other things” include some issues with her phone charger. I’m not sure what is up with that, but she will be able to charge her phone and her back-up battery pack via the PC at the apartment if necessary. She enjoyed dinner at her friend’s place, though. She let me know when she got home.

Back.. horizontal.. whew.. Evening was fun.. Ted walked me home..

Her choice of words didn’t escape my notice.

That’s nice, Fran. It is home, for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, January 24, 1:30 p.m. UK time

“I’ve had enough now.”
“Shall I send the helicopter?”
“Yes, please.”

That’s how our phone call began just now. Despite how it sounds, Fran’s hanging in there. It’s just all very new and also very exhausting for her. She plans to meet up with friends again today at some point, possibly for a jaunt to Chapala market, and then dinner this evening. The issue with the phone charger doesn’t seem too bad after all. It might just be a dodgy connection. Fran took two plugs and several USB cables, so she should be okay.

Thursday, January 25, 7:30 a.m. UK time

Fran went out exploring yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon. She got a bit lost when she went looking for a particular coffee bar / café, but a nice lady helped her out and she got there in the end. It threw her a bit though. Later on, back at her apartment, we had a great video call—our first of this trip. She gave me a tour of the apartment and I also got to see the mountains! Seeing it all live helps me get a feel for where (and how) she is.

And how is she? I’m not going to say she’s struggling but she isn’t settled in yet and things like getting a bit lost, and not knowing the language, and her Bali top going missing, and having a bit of a sore tummy, all add up to her not enjoying it as much as she’d like to. She is also uncertain about how it will be once her friends return from their vacation tomorrow (Friday), so she no longer has the apartment all to herself. On the other hand, that could help her. She is feeling a bit—not lonely, but on her own having to do things, make plans and decisions herself.

She has travelled on her own before but not for quite a while, and the times I’m thinking of (trips to Europe before I met her) were distinctly mania-fuelled. Thankfully, that is not the case this time. She said last night she’s realised she prefers traveling with a companion. (Yes, I am with her, but it’s not the same.)

As for me—I’m doing okay! Last evening I read some more of the book Talk Like TED, and chatted online with a few folk. I had a beer, watched some TV, and had an early night. I am keeping busy, but also allowing space and time for myself. My Wellness Plan helps. I have referred to is a few times and it helps keep me on track.

At work today (Thursday) I learned about a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course they are putting on in March. I put my name down for it (at my boss’ insistence—she is incredibly supportive of all my mental health work). It’s four years since I took the course and I’d love to refresh my skills. I am encouraging colleagues to consider it too.

Friday, January 26, 7:35 a.m. UK time

Fran and I Skyped twice yesterday (Thursday) evening. On the first call, I helped compile and send the first of her “postcard” emails to friends. I downloaded the photos we’d selected from her iCloud, and resized them in Photoshop. We emailed them out, and also posted them to Facebook. Fran only has her phone to work on and it is easier for me to do the fiddly bits on my PC.

Time to fess up! I got rather frustrated and grumpy when the technology wouldn’t work the way we wanted it to. Fran stayed calm, though, rather than getting cross at me for getting cross. That helped me move through what I was feeling without it blowing up into more than it was. Fran is tired, for sure, and feeling a bit “off,” but she wrote something today which shows how well she is handling things.

It hasn’t all been easy but my new mantra is “Well, the good thing is…” That way I can turn it around and be ok with whatever is. Ajijic is a simple sweet town with lots of color and complexity. I’m glad to be experiencing all that it is.

When we met later we checked through Fran’s spending, and then put “work” aside and just hung out for a while. This included me reading some more of Outlander. I imagine it is the first time this story of 18th Century Scotland, written by an American, has been read in the UK by a Brit to an American in Mexico!

Saturday, January 27, 11:00 a.m. UK time

Fran and I had a nice voice call last night (Friday) at around 11 p.m. (her 5 p.m.). She’d been out and about throughout the day, including visiting one lovely looking café (Casa del Cafe) after another place she’d gone to had been closed. I was looking through some of her photos and bounced one back to her that I especially liked.

“Oh, this is gorgeous, Fran.”
“That’s where I am right now!”

Later, she met up with her two hosts, who had returned from vacation. After spending some time with them, Fran retired to her room, which is where we had our call. We talked about what we’d been up to, and our plans for the next few days. In Fran’s case that included a boat trip today (Saturday) to Scorpion Island, and a visit to some hot springs on Monday with a lady she’s met here. We need to research the hot springs a bit before then!

I feel we are doing really well: individually, and as a team. I spent my time last evening working on the website, and I started reading the 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge, by Rachel Thompson, which arrived yesterday. I was immediately inspired to update the cover image and bio on my Twitter account—so I figure it’s already working!

When I came into town today (Saturday) I planned to go to the Starbucks across the road from Central Station, only it was full. I went back into the station to check the other coffee bars but they were also pretty busy. So, I stomped off to walk to the library. I could feel myself getting stressed and angry because things weren’t going the way I’d wanted them to. But I remembered my Wellness Plan, and Fran’s “dropping the hot coal” strategy. It worked! I could feel the stress leave me as I walked. I thought also of how Fran had handled having to change her plans for a burger the day before, when the first place she chose was shut. She is generally better than me at this stuff, but I’m rather proud, how I handled things this morning!

Saturday, January 27, 2:45 p.m. UK time

I’m at Costa Coffee in Blackwell’s Bookshop, and just had a fun video call with Fran! It was 8:45 a.m. for Fran, and the house cleaner was due at 9 a.m. so we didn’t have very long but it was good to catch up. She went out to a local festival last night with one of her friends, then for something to eat which included some kind of “Aztec soup” and a “medium” beer that turned out to be huge!

Sunday, January 28, 1:10 p.m. UK time

There’s not much to write today as we didn’t get to have any more calls yesterday (Saturday) with Fran out all day on her trip to the island. I’ve seen her photos—lots of them!—and I’d say she had a good time. We did chat a bit, though. Fran messaged me this yesterday evening.

“I don’t have anything planned for Sunday except TSA [completing her compensation claim for the loss of her Bali top] and photo processing. You will be blown away. It will be hard to choose.”
“That’s cool. I can help with that if you want.”
“Yep. Are you keeping track of my activities day by day?”
“Yes. That’s what’s in my journal, and will be in the weekly blogs.”
“I’m settling into this new place and people.”

That final comment is so important, and so healthy. One week ago, Fran was on her outward journey from Portland to Guadalajara. It’s been quite a week for us both! But she’s doing fine. I am too. Last night (Saturday) I typed up my Mexico journal notes and started working them into what will be this week’s blog post. I watched some TV, chatted with friends online, and watched a documentary on YouTube.

Monday, January 29, 12:00 p.m. UK time

Fran and I met twice yesterday (Sunday). On our first call I shared what had been happening in my world. We then looked over her to do list for the day, which included getting her latest photos sent out to her “postcard” mailing list and posted to Facebook. Between us we selected ten photos: quite a challenge as there were loads of great ones! I downloaded them to my PC and resized them in Photoshop. We also composed a reply to an email from TSA (Transportation Security Administration) regarding Fran’s compensation claim for the top that went missing from her luggage.

When we met up again later, Fran was in a local blues bar! “Shall we do the TSA and photo things now? I plan to show you Ajijic after.” It took a little while but the emails and posting to Facebook went smoothly, and without me getting all frustrated like I had earlier in the week!

With our chores done, Fran took me on a Skype walkabout through the streets of the town. It was wonderful to see all the sights—the colourful buildings, the people, the murals, the dog and horse poop.

We ended up at the market in the plaza, which was buzzing with people. No one seemed remotely phased at the sight of Fran holding her phone up to the side of her head as we walked and talked together. Well, apart from one little girl in the market who did look at us a bit funny!

Then Fran bumped into someone she knew who invited her to join his party for dinner. Fran at first said thanks, maybe another time, but then changed her mind and dropped me to take up the invitation. Maybe I was being petty but it really hurt. I could have kept it to myself but that’s not how we do things, so after calming down a bit I messaged Fran to share how I was feeling.

“Oh shit.. I’m so sorry.. It was just in the moment.. I didn’t mean to make you feel that way.”
“It hurt, to be dropped like that.”
“I realize that. I would’ve felt the same way. I was trying to make it special then I fucked up.”
“It was special, Fran. I fuck up sometimes too! It’s ok. I just needed you to know.”
“It was fun carrying you around. We’ll do it again.”

It was pretty late by then, and we said good night. I thought about it a lot on my way into work this morning. I got to be honest. Fran got to be honest. We both got a bit hurt but there was no lasting harm. It’s what we do. I realised too that there was more going on for me last night than just having our conversation cut short. I’ve been feeling pressured lately in various ways. I’d looked forward to chilling out with Fran and things didn’t work out the way I’d hoped. (In NVC terms, my needs weren’t met.) That’s the top and bottom of it, really. I’ve not been taking very good care of my boundaries.

With this in mind, I decided to give myself some space today and posted this up on my Facebook: as much as a reminder to myself as anything/anyone else.

A bit overwhelmed with stuff at the moment. If you are waiting to hear from me I will get back to you when I can. Feel free to nudge me but I may not respond straight away. Thanks.

I will spend some time with my Wellness Plan today. It will serve us both well.

Tuesday, January 30, 07:30 a.m. UK time

What a difference a day can make! I feel so much better this morning! I kept off Facebook yesterday (Monday) and focused on my writing. Fran and I did some work together including further emails to TSA. We also looked at the hot springs she’s hoping to visit at some point.

Later on, we went on another walk around Ajijic. Fran seems very confident navigating the town. She put Glympse on so I could track where we were. It was fun to follow our progress on the map whilst simultaneously seeing what was going on via our video call. I know there are other parts of the town Fran would like to share with me. I hope so, because it was a lot of fun!

The only scary moment was when we crossed one incredibly busy road. I confess I held my breath as we dashed across—the cars seemed to flash by so fast! After our hiccup the day before, it was a great example of how it’s possible to move forward without carrying grievances and issues along with you.

Overnight I had an email from a great friend of ours; best-selling author Julie A. Fast. She mentioned an exciting new writing opportunity but having seen my Facebook post, wondered if I might needed time before taking it any further. I so appreciated her consideration. I wrote back and said no, I’m good. This short break isn’t about turning away people or opportunities that resonate with me. It’s about paying attention to my boundaries so I can focus my energies where they can do the most good.

And that feels very healthy indeed.

Continues here.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five


Saturday 27 January 2018

Two Poems by Kenneth J Cody

City of Sadness

My life is sealed by two distinct black walls,
An interstate of racing thoughts,
Scattered throughout a city of morbid ruin.
Suicidal cells circulating,
Polluting the air of this decomposing surrounding,
Tearing holes in each brain wave.

There are many doors painting the walls,
Each an opening to a hidden reality.
On each door protrudes an industrial strength lock,
Designed to protect oneself from eternal sadness.

In a constant war with the one who holds the Key,
Whose power so strong,
Can open every door,
Creating a lowness of absorbing disease.
A growing desperation to be free,
To cut all power,
By destroying the one who holds the Key,

Manic Depression.

Whenever presented with an unlocked door,
Shadowed memories of utter discomfort become visible.
Revealing an empty bed maintained by a broken heart.
Soon all other memories begin to surface,
Like tiny thorns imbedded into my brain.

A bottle of empty pills,
Unprotected intercourse,
An aborted fetus,
As well as many mistakes gift-wrapped in hopes of a surprise,
But instead further mental torture.

Lost in internal suffering,
And hopes to one day rebuild my city with Lexapro bricks.


Your Skin Has Feeling

His canvas is pasty,
Cold and unforgiving.
Vomiting due to its existence,
Covering his blood like an icy blanket.

His canvas is weeping,
Begging to be left alone.

Leave me be,
For I am not your enemy.

With waves breaking without warning,
His eyes are saturated in the ocean...

Created subconsciously from the craters,
Burnt into his canvas randomly,
He knows not what he does,
Only that the pain disappears each moment.


Determined to destroy his inner self,
Only to torture his canvas,
which is innocent.


About the Author

I was born and raised in Virginia and currently reside in Florida with my wife Melissa and four beautiful children. I am a non-combat disabled veteran and suffer from Bipolar Disorder type 1 with psychotic features, rapid cycle and mixed episodes. I write poetry to escape the turmoil associated with this disorder and overcoming the pain and suffering I have experienced. You can find me on my website:


Thursday 25 January 2018

OCD Makes My Life Hard

I am checking for my wallet again. It's the third time I've done this and I don't actually want to do it. But I'm scared that it's gone. What if it's missing? Then I have to go get my driver's license again and my debit card replaced. My OCD makes me compulsively check to see that things are in place. I want to feel comforted. I want to feel like things are okay. I'm working on positively reinforcing myself when I refrain from checking, which is a treatment for OCD. The less I engage with checking the better. The more I can practice self-control and work in therapy with this behavior, the better it is for me and for the people I am close to.

I want to be better, but I know that "better" is a judgment on myself. Let me rephrase - I want to be able to control the compulsions to check things. I want to not have a mental illness but I don't have the choice. We are born into this world with certain flaws if you consider mental illness a flaw; some people don't. In any case, living with mental illness is hard. Living with bipolar disorder is difficult and people do the best that they can.

The same goes for OCD. OCD is considered an anxiety disorder and it's frustrating. Sometimes my brain doesn't let me function. Sometimes I can't do what I'd like to do. I want more for myself than this repetitive thought pattern nonsense. My brain is glitching and I know it's not my fault or my brain's fault. It still doesn't make it easier. It makes me feel bad about myself. Even though I didn't do anything wrong.

OCD is something that we cannot control to an extent. CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) helps to fight against negative thought patterns that keep us from having a positively charged life. But, CBT is part of a treatment plan. Psychiatric medication has been found to be effective for OCD and it helps alleviate the intensity of the thoughts. Exposure therapy is another treatment which helps address the symptoms of OCD and give people some clarity on how realistically dangerous their thoughts are.

OCD is creative and it tries to focus on what we fear the most. For example, I am afraid of dying and my OCD knows this and plays off it. It tells me I am dying of a mysterious disease and there's no hope for me. It's sad and scary, but I've learned to recognize the signs of the destructive thought patterns and talk about them in therapy. That's the most important thing right now.

If you're out there struggling with OCD and intrusive thoughts about your fears, please know that I am with you. I feel your pain! There's hope for you.

About the Author

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.


Wednesday 24 January 2018

Our Mexican Adventure, Part One: “I Got My Crew”

I give myself permission to fully experience whatever comes up during this trip, knowing I am safe.—Martin Baker

In our book, Fran and I describe how we handled our distance, mutually supportive, friendship while she was traveling in Europe for three months in 2013. Fran has taken a few shorter trips since then, but nothing comparable in terms of length, distance, or potential impact on her health and wellbeing. Until now.

Right now, she is newly arrived in Mexico for a month to undertake dental work. I thought it would be interesting to blog my side of things in a series of weekly posts. In this first post, we move through the week leading up to Fran’s arrival in Guadalajara.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Our Mexican Adventure, Part One: “I Got My Crew”

I am starting this as a log/journal of our four week trip to Mexico, Jan–Feb 2018. My intention is to record and explore my side of the experience as part of my own Wellness Plan, and as a source of material for our blog. I am thinking of maybe publishing a weekly summary, and/or any specific things that come up. This also meets one of my Seven Things I’d Quite Like to Do in 2018 goals: the one about finding a purpose for my larger, Standard size, Midori Traveler’s Notebook. [Opening page in my Mexico travel journal]

Tuesday, January 16, 7:40 a.m.

Fran and I were both tired when we met on Skype last night (Monday). I was tired from my day at work and then my evening meeting with Time to Change and Cygnus to discuss possible mental health initiatives in Northumberland. Fran was tired from a day that had been filled with people. She’d enjoyed the connections (lunch with a friend, and various online and phone conversations) but she realised another day had slipped by without having made a start on her packing. That definitely needs to start today!

Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Five days left to get everything done. Which we will! The great thing is Fran is aware she needs to allow space/time for resting as well as doing. So, after we’d talked about our respective days, I read to her (Outlander) and we watched some Midsomer Murders on Netflix until it was time to say good night, a little earlier than usual.

I wasn’t feeling too good myself yesterday, and sort of dumped that on Fran in the afternoon when I was deciding if I was up to going to the mental health event. Today, I will hold myself open to whatever Fran needs me to help her with, which will probably include packing this evening. We got this.

Wednesday, January 17, 7:40 a.m.

Well, Fran didn’t get any work done on her packing or finances yesterday (Tuesday), so those have moved into today. (It is a “snow day” in Portland today and she doesn’t intend to go out at all.) Yesterday she went to her Forever Fit class, and to her massage appointment. We did do some important emails for the trip, including arranging transport from Guadalajara to Ajijic next week. I did try to encourage/insist that we did at least a little packing when we met at 11 p.m. (her 6 p.m.) but Fran was adamant she didn’t want to, so we had a talk instead, and some reading, and watched a David Attenborough wildlife show on Netflix.

We also had another attempt at getting the mifi device to work, but it’s not connecting. I found some more detailed notes online which we can try at some point. Frustrating, that it doesn’t work, but we are not anticipating needing to use it.

I think I will see if there is another 21 day meditation challenge in the next few weeks. That is something I could do, as part of my self-care plan.

Thursday, January 18, 7:35 a.m.

I don’t think Fran’s done any actual putting-things-in-the-suitcase packing yet, BUT she had a very productive day yesterday (Wednesday): finances, emails etc. and I have no doubt she is on track for Sunday.

We have had to accept defeat on the mifi front. We followed the additional instructions last night but still no “green light.” We went through the To Do list together. It is mostly all done now. And overnight Fran heard back from Dental Express to confirm they can drive her from Guadalajara to Ajijic on Tuesday.

I’m also pleased with how I am preparing for the next four weeks. I have this journal/log which will feed my blogging, and my list of Things I Would Quite Like to Do to keep me on track. I know I will really feel it when Fran and I are less in touch than usual, especially at the times we are usually on Skype. I give myself permission to feel whatever comes up—and not hold on too tight to it.


Friday, January 19, 7:35 a.m.

Fran is well on track now! She carried her laptop on a little tour of the apartment last night while we were on Skype so I could see how she is getting all her clothes, meds, and other things ready for the trip. She is stepping steadily though these final days, doing what she needs to, and resting too.

We read together (Outlander) and watched more of Planet Earth. Fran is blown away by the programme in all its aspects: the teams who go out to capture the footage, the production teams, Attenborough himself… It feeds her sense of wonder and is a great reminder (re-minder) to me, to stay in the moment. To pay attention to what is going on.

I’m feeling prepared for the next few weeks. I found a talk by a mental health author called Lucy Nichol at Waterstones bookstore in March and booked a ticket. Good to have some things ahead in my calendar. Stepping stones through the year, and maybe some friends will want to go too.

Saturday, January 20, 10 a.m.

Yesterday, I compiled my personal Wellness Plan for the Mexico trip, and printed it out so I can keep it to hand in my journal. I am excited about seeing how we (I) do. Fran got lots more done through the morning, and had everything to hand to do the physical packing when we had our Skype at 7 p.m. (her 2 p.m.) Fran had been concerned not everything would fit into her luggage—but it did! As she packed things, I marked them off on our packing list, and afterwards read it back to Fran so we knew we’d not missed anything.

We did her suitcase and backpack in about 40 minutes, and did the rest when we met again later. Fran was so delighted and relieved that everything went fit! It was a big weight off her shoulders.

We did have a couple of scares. There was an earthquake in the Mexico region, although not especially close to where we are going. And a friend shared a travel advisory notice which was a bit scary, but fortunately it seems to be okay in Jalisco. We will remain vigilant—but we are going!

Sunday, January 21, 1 p.m.

Last night Fran and I met for our final pre-Mexico Skype call. There was nothing really to do, but we read through our packing and To Do lists one last time just to be sure. We talked a little about how the journey might go, acutely aware of the significance of this trip to us both. I told her I am ready for it from my point of view. I have my Wellness Plan, and I am curious too, which is always a healthy way to approach change. We watched another episode of Planet Earth, then said good night.

This morning—Sunday—I messaged her as we’d arranged, to make sure she was up for our friend Beth to drive her to the bus station. She was already awake. I double checked she was actually up out of bed, and that she’d packed the very final things, including her phone charger and cables. She had. She messaged me just before leaving her apartment.

I am as ready as I can be. A bit scared too. Today’s Angel Card is “Awakening.”

Later, talking about the trip as a whole, she said: “I will feel fear. I will counter it with being present.”

Beth was on time and stayed with Fran until she was on the bus (thank you, Beth!) During the drive to Boston, Fran got a bit unsure about gate numbers for her flights, so I looked them up for her on the United Airlines app.

“I can’t imagine doing any of this without you.”
“You’re stuck with me now, Frannie. Didn’t you know that?”

Monday, January 22, 07:35 a.m.

Fran messaged me just now, as I headed out of the house on my way to work. She is safe in her hotel room in Guadalajara (“Hotel Frances is gorgeous”) but it was a hell of a journey for her yesterday.

The first leg, Boston–Newark, went fine, but the next departure was delayed which meant she couldn’t catch her final scheduled flight to Guadalajara. The replacement flight was also delayed, so that she didn’t land in Mexico until around twenty past midnight local time.

I stayed with Fran most of the way. We couldn’t chat when she was in the air of course but I tracked the flights (and the delays!) via the United Airlines app and website. I messaged the hotel to let them know Fran would be late. I’m not sure if they got the message (Fran also tried to call them with no success) but it all worked out in the end.

Fran was also concerned about how she would get to the hotel so late at night. It was about a 30 minute drive from the airport. This was something I couldn’t help with, so she posted in one of the Ajijic Facebook groups for suggestions.

My flight into Guadalajara tonight got delayed by three hours, so I land at midnight. I had planned on using Uber but am wondering if anyone has a trusted driver willing to drive me from the airport to Hotel Frances. I am ecstatic about spending a month in Ajijic and meeting some of you!

People in the group were really helpful and supportive: a great example of using a wider support network when needed. I kept Fran company on chat while she waited at Houston for her final flight, which was also delayed.

“I just checked online, Fran. They’re waiting for crew.”
“I got my crew—you.”

It was around 3:20 a.m. my time when she boarded and we said good night. (“Thanks for staying with me.” “Of course.”)

So—she is in her room in “her” hotel (Hotel Frances) in Guadalajara. Exhausted, but safe. She’s taken her meds (we’ve agreed that I will remind her to take them for at least the next few days as she settles into her new routine). She doesn’t have her luggage, and the AT&T data package for her phone doesn’t seem to be working yet, but hopefully both those issues will be resolved later today.

We are here (HERENOW). That’s what matters.

Tuesday, January 23, 7:30 a.m.

I had a few chat conversations with Fran through the day yesterday (Monday) and a lovely Skype call in the evening. It was just ten minutes or so but it grounded me and gave me a handle on how she is doing. She was really tired, of course, but she’d had a good time being shown around Guadalajara by a friend of hers who lives there. She took lots of great photos, too.

Fran was reunited with her luggage: it was delivered to her hotel in the afternoon. Her data/phone are also working now. I had a great chat session with Daniel on the AT&T support line. As well as providing the technical help we needed (it was a setting on Fran’s phone we’d forgotten about) Daniel was really nice and friendly. He commented that Fran and I were clearly good friends which led to a conversation about our book and the website and the journal/blog I am doing for the trip. I said he might even get a mention—so here you go, Daniel!

When Fran and I had our Skype call it was around 5 p.m. Mexico time. Fran was about to have a rest and was considering going for a stroll later. In the end, she decided to focus on self-care. I know she wanted to make the most of being in Guadalajara but she recognised her body needed to rest.

I thought about going out but there would be lots of people, and the sun is setting. I thought about going downstairs to the bar or restaurant but there’s lots of people. I’ve had people all day Sunday and today. So I think staying in and resting feels like what I need to do. Tomorrow morning I’ll explore, but tonight is mine. I don’t need to push myself.

Today (Tuesday) a car provided by Dental Express will collect Fran from her hotel and drive her to Ajijic, which is about an hour south of Guadalajara, on the north shore of Lake Chapala. She will collect the keys to her friend’s apartment and can then finally unpack and relax. It’s been quite a week. I’m so proud of her.

Hey, Fran—you did it (we did it)! We’re in Mexico!

Continues here.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five


Wednesday 17 January 2018

Discussing Suicide

By Roiben

Trigger Warning: Before reading this post, take a moment to consider its contents: it discusses Suicide and Mental Illness. If reading about Suicide is likely to make you feel worse, or trigger any urges to cause yourself harm, I ask that you simply look away from this post until a time when you feel more able to handle it.

Depression (and Mental Illness as a whole) is a thief and a murderer. It steals everything, little by little. Your self-worth, your enjoyment of your hobbies, your energy and motivation and then, at its worse, it can steal the will to live. The very spark of life goes out and existing becomes harder and harder to justify. Your mind screams at you to end it now! To stop the suffering.

Before you know it, you are planning your very demise. The end of you. You obsess over the many methods, whether “accidents” like getting run over by a car or train. Or the more planned occurrences: The overdose, the cuts, the alcohol, the ligature. All call to you, tempting you to make your final plans and get it over with.

This is what it is to be Suicidal.

This constant fight in the mind itself to end. Any way possible. As soon as possible. It is a constant distraction, 24/7, every waking hour. It even permeates your dreams. You plan in your sleep the best ways to die. Then, in the day time you wonder if you should get your affairs in order. Clear that debt, pay that bill, make sure X has that game, or Blu-ray, or teddy they have always liked.

There is a panic, initially, so much to sort out, to work out, to plan. But, then, when the decision has been made, there is a sense of calm. It will be over soon. Everything is in hand, plans are set, times are planned. It will be perfect and it will be over. There will be no more suffering. There is a sense of relief.

It is often said that those who are suicidal have an apparent “up-swing”. They seem better, happier, calmer. This is that calm. It comes from seeing a way out. An end to the horrible pain being felt inside. Because often, pain and suffering is all the Depression (and other Mental Illnesses) leave behind. They swallow the spark of life and leave only darkness and pain – emotional, physical, spiritual, existential pain. People who are suicidal only want to die as they see it as the only way to end the pain.

So, what can be done? Being willing to listen, to hear out all that is wrong and painful and concerning without dismissing or belittling experiences and feelings.

Then, suggest that there may still be other options. Other things that can help to dissipate the pain. There is help available. Medication, therapy, GPs, Psychiatrists. Not to say “Never”, but instead to say “Not yet”. To encourage trying everything else first.

As someone once said to me: “You can always die another day, another hour, but try this first”.

This validates the suffering, appreciates that the person is suicidal and desperate to end the suffering they feel inside but offers alternatives to try first. It doesn’t say: “This is the cure”. It says “This may help”. In my experience, it is the most successful approach ever taken.

Most important of all, be there, be willing to listen. Don’t brush things aside as insignificant or a sign that the individual needs to “buck up” and “pull themselves together”. There is nothing worse than being told if you just “thought positively” or “pulled yourself together” or “focused on the good things in life” things would be better. As though the person has not already tried.

I will end with three key things to remember:

  • Does the fact that someone chooses not to go through with it mean they were not suicidal? No.
  • Does the fact that someone has tried to end their life but is still alive mean they were not really suicidal? No, and it doesn’t help to dismiss it as a “cry for help” or “attention seeking”.
  • Can there be help, support and appreciation of the very bleak desperation behind being suicidal? Yes, and there needs to be more of it. If you can, be that someone who helps.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


Wednesday 10 January 2018

Seven Things I’d Quite Like to Do in 2018

Rather than setting myself new year resolutions, I’m choosing six things I’d quite like to do during 2018, plus one carried forward from last year. It’s something I tried last year, and it worked out nicely for me.

1. Read Two Books

As I’ve described previously (It’s Not Just for Kids: Reading Together for Fun and Friendship) Fran and I regularly read together on Skype. We’re currently reading Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. It’s been a while since I read anything on my own, though. I’ve chosen two books to (re)read: Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo, and Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard.

2. Bring My Weight Back under 180 Pounds

This is the carried forward one! A year ago my weight was hovering around 190 pounds. I brought it down to 182 but it climbed again at Christmas and New Year. My long term aim is to maintain between 174 and 176 as I managed a few years back, but 180 will be a nice step on the way.

3. Have One Weekend Away From Home

A potential trip to London last spring had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances but I enjoyed the opportunity to travel to Ely in November. I don’t have any personal trips planned yet for this year but I’d like to do something.

4. Attend Two Speaking Engagements

I’ve read from our book several times at the Newcastle Literary Salon, done a live radio interview, taken part in a live mental health panel discussion, recorded several podcast interviews, and was a guest speaker at last November’s Talking FreEly mental health event. (See our News and Appearances page for details of these and other engagements.)

I’d like to develop this side of things more. If you know of any speaking opportunities, please let me know.

5. See Three Movies at the Cinema

In 2014 I made a deliberate commitment to attend the cinema and saw four superb films, most at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema: The Imitation Game, The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything, and Unbroken.

I’ve not been to the cinema since and would quite like to do so. I’ll see what movies take my fancy as the year progresses.

6. Find a Use for My Standard Midori

I’ve owned a Passport size Midori Travelers Notebook (TN) for a couple of years. It goes everywhere with me. It has two notebook inserts: one for random scribbles and notes, the other as a mini journal for vacations and other events.

It’s also home to any number of other bits and pieces: business cards, addresses, sticky notes, stickers and reminders.

Last spring I bought a larger, Standard size, Midori, but have yet to find a proper place for it in my world. I recently decked it out with two brand new inserts: a 64 page lined one and an unlined lightweight insert with 128 pages of thinner paper. It also has a zip pocket for stickers, notes and such. I’m interested to see where this takes me!

7. Shoot a Roll of Film

Over the years I’ve owned and used a number of film and digital cameras. I’d quite like to shoot a roll or two of film in one or more of the film cameras I still possess.

Prime candidates are the Kodak Brownie 44B which belonged to my father and my Zorki 4K rangefinder, the first “proper” camera I ever owned.

I will report back through the year on how I get on! Have you set yourself any goals or resolutions for 2018? If so, I’d love to hear them!


Sunday 7 January 2018

Bombogenesis: Some Things You Just Can’t Plan For!

Samoset Resort, Rockport, Maine

Well, Fran and her folks made it to Samoset! Given the appalling weather (“bomb cyclone”) that has hit America’s East Coast in the past few days, Christa and Gary made decent progress from their home in New Jersey to Fran’s place in Portland, Maine. They arrived around 9 p.m. my time (4 p.m. their time), then drove on to Samoset with Fran navigating.

We’d Skyped earlier in the day, while Fran was waiting for them to arrive. I was glad to find her calm and prepared. Most of our focus over the past couple of months has been preparing for this trip, and then Mexico in another couple of weeks. It hasn’t always been easy for Fran, balancing her health and other needs with the seemingly endless items on our To Do lists and travel plans, but we approached it as we always do: one step at a time. I am proud of how she’s kept going. And now it’s not just something up ahead that we are planning for. It’s real. It’s happening.

The weather was one thing we had not bargained on. There had been times when it looked like maybe the trip wouldn’t happen, or would be delayed by a day or two. Fran had checked in with her mom every day, and we had kept a close eye on the weather and travel reports, as well as public webcams along the route they would be taking.

As we’d anticipated, the interstates had mostly been cleared after the heavy snow fall the day before, but conditions worsened once they hit the minor roads. There was one scary moment, when they went into a snow drift. Fran messaged me to get the AAA number for them, which I did (reprising my Angel Duty role from previous trips) but in the end the police got them on their way. My relief and gratitude prompted me to post on social media: “A quiet thank you to all the emergency and support services who are there for us when we need them.”

Fran messaged me a little after 7 p.m. their time (my midnight). Two little words that meant so much: “Made it!”

It’s always odd when Fran is away. I don’t know how much Skype time we will manage this week. They have Wi-Fi where they are staying, but I need to leave that up to Fran and not get grumpy or clingy if it is not as much as I would like. She is away with her mom, and that’s what this trip is mostly about. I will be there for when she needs me, as I told her the other night, when she was feeling a little uncertain how things would go.

“I’m gonna be right at your side through this week, Frannie.”

“I’m glad.”

As well as a trip in itself, Samoset is a prelude to the month Fran will spend soon in Mexico. It’s important for me (for us) to keep that bigger picture in mind. This week in Samoset. One week at home. Four weeks in Mexico. We need to stay vigilant, starting now. As we always do before a trip, we recently reviewed and updated Fran’s Travel Wellness Plan. The key things to keep an eye on remain the same:

  • Fran’s mood (and mine!)
  • Any specific flags for depression or mania
  • Her levels of energy / fatigue / pain
  • Her rest and sleeping patterns
  • Her eating and drinking

(Fran won’t weigh while she’s away but she’s been doing well recently—far better than I have!—and won’t want to have slipped back when she checks in with her scales again next week.)

I need to pay attention to my self-care and wellness too, so as to be there for Fran as effectively as possible and not over burden her with my stuff. These are lessons we learned first-hand a few years ago when Fran spent three months traveling in Europe. Our respective Wellness Plans proved invaluable, and I have reread the relevant chapters from our book in readiness for the weeks ahead.

I needed to attend to my own well-being if I was to support Fran effectively, so I drew up a wellness plan for myself loosely modelled on hers. I wrote down a list of positive activities and behaviours that were likely to help me through the summer, and gave myself permission to experience fully whatever thoughts and feelings came up, without suppressing or holding on to them.

It was important for me to accept certain aspects of our friendship would change, and I wrote a second list of expectations I needed to let go of. These included our usual morning calls, ongoing chats through the day, and voice or video calls every evening. I set myself a series of specific goals to encourage me to make the most of the time I usually spent online with Fran.

High Tide, Low Tide. Chapter 8, “Together and Apart: Handling Challenge, Change, and Codependency”

The “Things I Would Quite Like to Do in 2018” post I am working on at the moment is a good place for me to start. It’s not on that list as such but I also want to blog more—and more spontaneously—this year. Maybe I can use these musings as part of that...

—Oh look, I did!


Wednesday 3 January 2018

Six Things I’d Have Quite Liked to Do in 2017—How Did I Get On?

Back in January I posted a list of six things I’d quite like to do in 2017. So how did I get on?

1. Volunteer with Time to Change


Following on from previous volunteering experiences with mental health charity Time to Change, I had a fantastic time at Newcastle Pride in July. You can read how I got on, as well as the thoughts of others who took part, in my post What Is It Like to Volunteer with Time to Change?

If you’d like to get involved with Time to Change yourself in any capacity, check out their Champions page.

2. Visit a Pub


This might not seem a particularly challenging objective but I rarely visit pubs, apart from when my wife Pam and I are on holiday. I specifically wanted to visit Wylam Brewery at the Palace of Arts in Newcastle upon Tyne. I achieved this goal in May, finding that the place fully lived up to my hopes.

I visited two other pubs of note this year. The 15th-century Kirkstone Pass Inn on the A592 Kirkstone Pass road is the highest pub in Cumbria, and a rare delight boasting an extensive and delicious menu.

In November I accepted an invitation to speak at Talking FreEly’s second mental health event in Ely, Cambridgeshire. I travelled down the day before and stayed at the Nyton Guest House. I had a fabulous meal and a couple of pints at the Minster Tavern in the centre of town.

You can read about my visit to Ely in my blog post Community, Cake, and Conversation, and watch my talk here.

A former favourite and Britain’s highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn featured in a Christmas 2017 tv advert for Waitrose supermarket. The advert is pretty cool but the pub itself failed to deliver when Pam and I visited in May. We looked elsewhere when we were back in the area in October. The Pack Horse Inn in Keswick, and The Beehive Inn at Eamont Bridge near Penrith are both worth a visit.

3. Fundraise for a Mental Health Charity


I didn’t do as much as I had intended, but Fran and I again took part in the NAMI Maine Walk in October.

Fran did the walk in person in South Portland; I took an equivalent walk here in Newcastle.

4. See HTLT on a College or University Reading List


Fran and I are keen to get our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder into libraries and onto the reading lists for relevant school, college, or university courses.

As far as we know, our book isn’t on any course reading lists yet. However, it is achieving recognition in the professional sector and various lists and libraries.

If you are involved with training courses or programs and feel our book could be relevant, we’d love to hear from you!

5. Bring My Weight Back under 180 Pounds


In January 2017 my weight was hovering around 190 pounds.

As the graph shows, I’ve not achieved my target of 180 pounds (yet!) but I brought my weight down significantly and maintained for a good while between 184–186. Christmas has added a couple of pounds back, so I need to pay attention. I will carry this objective forward into 2018.

6. Complete a Mental Health Course


I completed the excellent free online Ally Training Course offered by NoStigmas. The three self-paced modules cover Self Care, Peer Support, and Advocacy and I was impressed by the content and presentation of the material. I recommend it to anyone interested in mental health support of oneself and others.

Did you set yourself any goals for 2017? How did you get on? I will post my Things I Would Quite Like to Do in 2018 list in the New Year.